Before ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘Star Wars’ Had a Long History of Casting Comedians

Before ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘Star Wars’ Had a Long History of Casting Comedians

The Mandalorian is returning this week for what will either be another action-packed sci-fi adventure or just eight hours of Mando and Baby Yoda snuggling. Either way, people will be pleased.

One notable addition to the cast of the third season: the great Tim Meadows, who will hopefully make an appearance as the Ladies Mandalorian. This seemingly continues the show’s distinct trend of filling out its cast with comedic performers. Thanks to The Mandalorian, the Star Wars universe now includes folks like Amy Sedaris, Brian Posehn and Bill Burr, who somehow wasn’t canceled for his disparaging comments about Gungans.

Similarly, the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series featured Kumail Nanjiani as a faux-Jedi con artist.

While casting comedians might seem like an entirely new direction for the Star Wars franchise, it’s not as unique as it appears. For starters, the recent sequel trilogy subtly utilized the voices of several famously funny people, including Reggie Watts, who voiced a helmeted Lando Calrissian in The Rise of Skywalker after receiving a random text from J.J. Abrams.

And BB-8’s synthetic bloops were created using audio recordings of Ben Schwartz and Bill Hader. 

Before that, Whose Line Is It Anyway? star Greg Proops and comedian Scott Capurro were hired to play the two-headed alien announcer in The Phantom Menace after the film’s casting director saw Proops’ stand-up set at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

As for the original trilogy, it also featured a seasoned comedian in the cast — not in some minor supporting role like Lobot or the literal Christian Devil, but as one of the most iconic characters in pop-culture history: R2-D2. Everybody’s favorite trash can-shaped droid was played by Kenny Baker, who, at the time, was regularly performing as part of a musical comedy duo called the Mini-Tones, along with actor Jack Purvis. 

After Star Wars production manager Robert Watts saw the Mini-Tones live, he invited them to audition for George Lucas. According to the film’s set decorator Roger Christian, Lucas took one look at Baker and proclaimed, “You are R2-D2.” 

But Baker originally turned down the role of Artoo, partly out of concerns that he would be “stuck in a robot” for days on end and also because the Mini-Tones’ career was booming, with them reaching the finals of a popular TV talent show. Baker didn’t want to put their comedy plans on hold, but he was eventually convinced to join Star Wars on the condition that Purvis would also be employed by the production.

Although Baker obviously didn’t do a ton of emoting in the metal R2-D2 getup, his comedic talents were, in fact, the reason why the crew wanted him specifically to play the part. Christian and others felt that Baker’s humor and personality would “hold up under the difficult conditions we would place him under during filming.” 

In other words, being shoved into a sweltering metal robot costume is less tortuous than pursuing a career in comedy.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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